WASHINGTON, DC—Nearly three fourths of participants in a recent study view government terminology as “insider jargon” at best and “mumbo jumbo” at worst.
In what appears to be a first-ever study of public attitudes on and access to government’s extensive vocabulary of acronyms, abbreviations, codes, and similar terms, respondents voted heavily in the negative. Study participants were asked to rate government terms as “Precise and logical,” “Easy to learn,” “Specialized,” “Insider jargon,” or “Mumbo jumbo.”
Only 25 percent gave such terms a neutral “Specialized” grade, and a mere 2 percent described them as “Precise and logical.” None of the participants said the terms are “Easy to learn.” By far the largest response (61%) rated government terms as “Insider jargon,” and an additional 12 percent said such language is “Mumbo jumbo.”
“We scrubbed the Internet pretty thoroughly, and to the best of our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has designed a study to gauge public sentiment on and, more importantly, problems encountered in accessing government language,” according to Robert Mander, the study’s author and founder of Govlish®. Mander describes Govlish as a “data-driven tool for navigating our government maze—the largest, most complex organization on the planet.”
When asked to rate search engines as a tool for finding the meanings of government terms, 37 percent rated them as “So-so”—“something less than a ringing endorsement,” Mander observes, but not as negative as “Unreliable and too time consuming” (25%) or downright “Lousy” (10%). Only a quarter gave search engines a passing grade of “Reliable and efficient,” and a mere 3 percent praised them as “A godsend.”
The majority of study participants identified themselves as government workers, government contractors, and nonprofit organization professionals (39%, 35%, and 10%, respectively), with smaller numbers of educators, attorneys, think tank, media, and business consultant professionals. Most respondents were experienced in government work, with only 28 percent reporting less than one year to five years of experience.
“These people are not government greenhorns,” Mander said, adding that 40 percent reported having 20 or more years of experience in their professions. He explained that participants were solicited from Govlish e-pub subscribers, the company’s LinkedIn site, and a Twitter posting. Points of origin and identities were blinded to protect the privacy of responders.
“What’s most encouraging to us is that fully 91 percent of respondents feel that a service like Govlish would be Useful, Very Useful, or Highly Useful in their work—14, 25, and 52 percent, respectively. Govlish is designed to decipher the language of government accurately, easily, and quickly. They will find everything in context.”
Responders apparently place a premium on “quickly.” All (100%) answered that they spend no more than 15 minutes searching for the meaning of a government term before giving up in frustration. None said they would spend either 16–30 or more than 30 minutes looking before giving up.
“Somewhat to our surprise,” Mander noted, the largest group (40%) preferred a web site over a mobile app (23%) as a tool “useful in finding the meanings of government terms.” “This finding may sway us to strategize differently,” he said. He added that a relatively strong showing for custom data sets (11%) such as agency taxonomies and folxonomies also came as a welcome surprise. This was followed by software as a service (SaaS, 9%) and wearable devices (3%).
Among other findings, 79 percent of study participants said that understanding government terms was Important (23%), Very important (26%), or Essential (30%) to their work, and a majority (57%) report that they Often, Regularly, or Constantly search for government terms.
“Our findings should be viewed as preliminary. While our study was small and select and readers should be cautious in generalizing from it, it’s a much needed start. Simply airing public sneers and gripes about government’s use of language does nothing to improve relationships between government and its citizens—and even serves to alienate us. Further research is needed to determine how well (or poorly) we are communicating to determine best practices for connecting us with our government.
“James Madison once said, ‘A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.’ Govlish is dedicated to preventing the farce and tragedy that Madison so feared,” Mander added.
To view the full study methods and results, email Robert at AlphaSoup at govlish.com.
Govlish is a data-driven tool for navigating our government maze—the largest, most complex organization on the planet. We aggregate, analyze, organize, format, contextualize, and curate more than 100,000 Federal and State government terms. Uniquely, all terms are traced to their origins, enabling users to quickly find the correct answers to their searches without the frustration of information overload. Govlish grows out of the experience of its founder, Robert Mander, a technical writer of government documents for more than 12 years. Visit their site at www.govlish.com.